Ecological catastrophe in connection with the impact of the Kaali Meteorite about 800-400 BC on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia
A sequence of peat enriched with impact ejecta (allochthonous minerals and iridium) from Piila bog, 6 km away from the Kaali impact crater (island of Saaremaa, Estonia), was examined using pollen, radiocarbon, loss-on-ignition, and x-ray diffraction analyses to date and assess the environmental effect of the impact. The vegetation in the surroundings of the Piila bog before the Kaali impact was a fen surrounded by forest in natural conditions. Significant changes occur in pollen accumulation and composition of pollen in the depth interval 170-178 cm, which contains above background values of iridium (up to 0.53 ppb). Two samples from the basal silt layer inside the main crater at Kaali contain 0.8 ppb of iridium, showing that iridium was present in the impact ejecta. The impact explosion swept the surroundings clean of forest shown by the threefold decrease in the total pollen influx (especially tree pollen influx), increase in influx and diversity of herb taxa, and the relative dominance of pine. Increased input of mineral matter measured by loss-on-ignition and the composition mineral matter (increased input of allochthonous minerals) together with an extensive layer of charcoal and wood stumps in Piila bog at the same depth interval points to an ecological catastrophe, with local impact-induced wildfires reaching at least 6 km northwest of the epicenter. The disappearance of cereals in the pollen record suggests that farming, cultivation and possibly human habitation in the region ceased for a period of ~100 years. The meteorite explosion at Kaali ranged between the effects of Hiroshima and Tunguska. The age of the Kaali impact event is placed between 800-400 b.c. based on radiocarbon dating of the peat enriched with impact ejecta in the Piila bog.